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I was talking with Jeff about his new Sekine project the other day, and he was curious about how to fit wheels into this old frame — he had tried a modern set of wheels off his road bike, and the hub was way too wide to fit between the dropouts.

I told him that I was having a related problem with an old bike that I resurrected. In my case, though, I had a hub that fit just fine between the dropouts, but I had to add axle spacers to “build out” the proper “over-locknut dimension” (O.L.D.) so everything fit properly. Over time, though, I found out that my axle spacers were causing me some problems. I had some old 1mm thick axle spacers in my spare parts boxes, and they were no longer viable — they were warped or something, so I couldn’t adjust an excessive amount of play out of my rear hub bearings…I decided to remove them and reset my frame’s dropout spacing to fit the “native” 120mm O.L.D.

The culprits: old axle spacers that were no longer flat, causing excessive play in the bearings.

Old axle spacers

To respace a frame, you will need a length of threaded rod (“allthread”), some large washers and nuts to fit the rod, and an accurate metric ruler or precision calipers. I used 3/8″ allthread since it was closest to the diameter of the hub axle I am using.

Start out by taking the rear wheel out of the frame and measuring the dropout spacing from the inside face to the opposite inside face, like so:

Measuring dropout spacing

Here, it shows a spacing of 126mm. The second step is to insert the allthread and washers into the dropouts as shown below:

Allthread ready to push those chainstays together!

Simply crank on the nuts with an appropriate wrench — and do it evenly…a half-turn on each side at a time so everything stays aligned. Remove the allthread and washers periodically to check your progress. You may have to go pretty far past your “target” width so the chainstays and dropouts finish off at the appropriate distance. I squeezed my frame down to about 105mm before the respacing “took”, leaving me with a perfect 120mm spacing. Once the axle spacers were removed from my hub, I was able to get rid of the bearing play and everything was rock-solid once again!

Want to spread out your rear triangle rather than squeezing it down? Simply install the allthread with the washers on the INSIDES of the dropouts and twist those nuts accordingly.

I should add at this point that this method only works with steel frames. While it can be done to a certain degree with an aluminum bike frame, I don’t really recommend it — if you only have to squeeze or spread the dropouts a couple millimeters, it’s probably OK to use this method on an aluminum frame. DO NOT attempt this method on a carbon frame, though, unless you really want to break something!

For Jeff’s application, I think a “flip-flop” hub might be a perfect solution — plenty of room on the axle for proper spacers, if needed (just buy NEW spacers that you know are flat!), and room for a 5 or 6-speed cluster on the freewheel side of the hub.

The other thing Jeff wanted to do was go from the Sekine frame’s native 27″ wheels down to a more modern and versatile set of 700c wheels. Going to 700c wheels is better in the long run because there is much better availability of tires and rims for this size.

Doing the swap is easy enough to do, since 700c wheels are a bit smaller in diameter and will easily fit into such a frame. The one sticking point, though, might be finding brakes that have enough “reach” to work with the new, smaller wheels. Sheldon Brown offers a kludgy, but acceptable brake drop method, but I think it is a bit more elegant to find appropriate long-reach brakes…Ebay might be a good source, or you could always go for a modern set of Tektro long-reach badboys.

I want to add in a plug for fellow Floridians and master wheel builders Bicyclewheels.com. For about $100 or so, you can buy a handbuilt, rock-solid set of wheels. I went for their bottom-shelf 700c flip-flop set with Formula hubs on Weinmann rims…not expecting too much, but I can say that I’ve BEAT on these wheels: rolling down stairs, riding on 2 miles of cobblestones every day that I commute, etc. The wheels are still as true as the day they came in the mail!

So, get out there and tinker…there’s lots of good stuff you can do right at home to bring an old frame back to life, even with more modern components!